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The left field dilemma

Hunter Pence is starting his rehab assignment tonight in Sacramento. But where will he end up when he comes back?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Hunter Pence is scheduled to make his first rehab appearance tonight with the River Cats in Sacramento.

Pence’s 10-day disabled list stint is technically over on Sunday, however he will likely not be activated at that time. It’s also unclear as to what Pence’s role will be when he does return.

Bruce Bochy has said that Pence will be playing when he comes back, which - of course he will. But where and how much he will be playing remains to be seen due to the resurgence of, and recent injury to, Mac Williamson.

Pence started the season going 10-for-58, with two walks and 22 strike outs. Though he wasn’t the only Giant to have early offensive struggles — Brandon Crawford and Austin Jackson are still struggling in that regard — the fact that Pence had someone in Triple-A who was on fire and who played his position made him an easy target for frustrated fans who wanted to see some offense.

Though we can’t say for certain that Williamson’s fantastic start to the season in Sacramento was truly why Pence ended up on the disabled list — he really did hurt his thumb during the home opener — it does seem likely that it was done to give Williamson a look. And he looked good, in more ways than one.

In 19 plate appearances, Williamson has had six hits, three of which have been monster home runs. His retooled swing and subsequent comeback has caught the imagination of fans and been the biggest feel-good story of the season so far, and for good reason. He has an on base percentage of .316, a slugging percentage of .789 and his OPS is 1.105.

Small sample size, sure, but he was also tearing it up in spring training and Triple-A, so it’s not as small as it seems. If anything, this small sample size shows that what was promising about him in Sacramento is likely not a fluke, or something that couldn’t be sustained against major league pitchers.

The problem, then, is who will be the starting left fielder when Pence is activated, assuming Williamson is healthy. It seems unlikely that Pence would return only to take a spot on the bench. However, with the way Williamson has been playing, it seems unlikely that he will be sent down and it would be unwise to use him off the bench rather than letting him play every day (although I wouldn’t put it past them).

Additionally, Williamson isn’t even the only outfielder banging on the clubhouse door.

Austin Slater is hot and Steven Duggar isn’t too far behind him.

Additionally, the Giants may have trouble on their hands with regards to the injury Williamson sustained in Tuesday night’s game, which would throw a wrench in all of this. If Williamson’s neck injury is more significant than originally thought — and it sounds like it might be because he is out of the line up again on Friday night and Austin Slater is with the taxi squad — then they could be looking to give Slater a look, as they did with Williamson. Or he could be a stop gap measure until they activate Pence.

So perhaps the Giants may extend Pence’s rehab stint. Whether to see if he heats up, to see how Williamson’s injury progresses, or to see how Slater performs, that’s anyone’s guess at this point. Or they will play Slater while Pence plays a couple of rehab games and that will be the end of the Mac Williamson Experience circa 2018.